Google & Amazon offer early viewings of box office flicks

Theater chains rallied last year against premium video-on-demand -- movies offered as high-priced home rentals mere weeks after debuting on the silver screen -- arguing that the shortened time span would hurt their bottom lines. Amazon and Google have decided to ignore those criticisms, adding one unreleased film each to their respective online storefronts this month.

Amazon chose "The Hunter," starring Willem Dafoe, as a new transactional VOD rental available ahead of its April 6 release in its Instant Video service. Meanwhile, Google one-upped its competitor, adding both "The Hunter" and "Dark Tide," (due in theaters March 30) featuring Halle Barry as a "shark whisperer," to its newly minted Google Play store.

Both films cost $9.99 to rent -- higher than most, but much, much cheaper than previous attempts at this sort of early access VOD.

Last year, motion picture studios and pay-TV companies began investigating how to cash in on VOD against the wishes of the National Association of Theater Owners (NATO). Their plan was to rent new movies to home viewers four-to-six weeks after they debuted at around $30 a pop. Theater owners responded by threatening any studio that jumped on-board with fewer trailer time for their films, arguing that such an aggressive move would lessen the value of the theatrical experience.

In one of the more bitter battles over premium VOD, Universal Pictures killed a decision to bring "Tower Heist" to home viewers less than one month after its box office debut. The planned cost for the movie rental fit perfectly with the film's money-stealing plot: $59.

Analysts immediately criticized premium VOD, questioning just how convenient (and cost-effective) a stay-at-home family night really is when it costs $30 or more. Merriman Capital Research Director Eric Wold dismissed premium VOD's impact on theaters' cash registers as "minimal." (via Home Media Magazine)

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